By Zach Kyle
The Idaho Statesman.
A smile creeps over Marianna Budnikova’s face as the panel moderator introduces her to the audience by her official title: “Professional Hacker.”
Budnikova takes pride in her programming work at Boise tech firm MetaGeek, which develops troubleshooting software for wireless routers. Her path to that job was unusual: She grew up in a poor family in Podolsk, Russia, and graduated from Boise State University’s undergraduate and master’s computer science programs.
On this day she is back at Boise State’s Student Union Special Events Center as part of a four-person panel to talk about “Harnessing Business for Good.” She is speaking about why she started two Boise nonprofits with a shared mission: to give girls and women the skills and confidence they need to take strides in the Y-chromosome-dominated world of technology.
Budnikova tells the audience of about 75 that she’s driven to make sure women face fewer obstacles breaking into the industry than she did.
“Companies are now missing out on that diversity and that talent,” she says. “I wanted to support other women in my shoes.”
Americans who hear that Budnikova’s mother is a doctor assume she comes from wealth, she told the Statesman. Not so. In Russia, teachers and doctors are among the lowest paid. Her father didn’t make much as a bank security guard, either. “We got hungry a few days before paychecks,” she said.
The family bought its first computer in 2002, when Budnikova was 12. The monitor’s screen was small. The rest was a “big, blobby thing,” a mishmash of refurbished parts.
Budnikova remembers playing “Age of Empires,” a strategy game released five years earlier, because the computer couldn’t handle current, slicker games of the day.
Budnikova played a lot of “Age of Empires” as well as “Disciples: Sacred Lands,” another turn-based game from the ’90s that her cousin gave to her.